The Bengals suffered another close loss on Sunday, falling to the 49ers in overtime 26-23.
Cincinnati was able to mount a furious comeback after trailing 20-6 in the fourth quarter and sent the game into overtime.
They got the ball first in the extra period and were able to drive for a field goal, but the 49ers answered with a touchdown of their own to win the game. Even after this tough loss, there are some positives to take away from the game.
Here are six takeaways following Sunday's overtime thriller:
Joe Burrow’s Fantastic Performance
This might've been Joe Burrow’s best performance of the season. Albeit he had some luck from a hands to the face penalty and another dropped interception, but he ended the day 25-of-34 for 348 yards and two touchdowns.
If we are going to mention the dropped interceptions, then we should also mention the dropped touchdown that he threw to Ja’Marr Chase as well. This is only the 4th game that Burrow has played this season where he did not throw an interception. Hopefully he is able to continue to cut down on turnovers moving forward.
Burrow's 125.6 passer rating was his third-highest of the season. He also had 0.28 EPA per play which is a good performance by that metric.
The Bengals didn't really open things up until the fourth quarter when they started their comeback. Burrow completed 11-of-15 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime.
He was sensational. Burrow's stellar play makes Taylor’s decision to run the ball in the critical moments of the game much worse than if the star quarterback was struggling. He was in a rhythm and gave the Bengals a chance to win.
Trey Hendrickson Sack Master
Trey Hendrickson left the game with a back injury, but his presence was felt early in Sunday's game. He had another sack, along with three pressures in 10 pass rush snaps.
Hendrickson put together another terrific performance. He was able to extend his sack streak to nine games and it's disappointing that we may not get to see him push for a 10th game. This sack moves him to 12.5 on the season which is tied for the best performance by a Bengals pass rusher since Carlos Dunlap set the franchise record in 2015 (13.5). Hopefully Hendrickson's injury isn't serious, because he has a real shot at breaking the record.
Zac Taylor’s Conservative Playcalling
Last year with nothing to lose, it seemed like Taylor was an aggressive playcaller. This season he has completely flipped to the other end of the spectrum.
To start the second half, Taylor called three consecutive run plays. In this day and age, 3rd-and-3 is a passing down unless the defense gives an extremely favorable look.
The Bengals did not get that good of a look to run the ball. If they are going to run the ball in this situation, that means they should go for it on 4th down and short. They didn't. The Bengals ran the ball on 3rd and 3 for two yards and decided to punt.
That string of decisions is something that may not have cost the Bengals this game, but it cost them that drive and it is a microcosm of Taylor’s season-long conservative playcalling.
The Bengals trailed 10-3 late in the second quarter and opted to kick the field goal instead of going for the touchdown. This decision in a vacuum is not terrible and I understood it because they were getting the ball back to start the third quarter. But, if they weren't going to be aggressive on their first possession of the second half, then going for it might've been the right call.
Taylor was also faced with a 4th-and-1 from the San Francisco 19-yard line in the first quarter. He opted to kick the field goal. While both attempts were made, going for it and converting even once could've given the Bengals the advantage and ultimately netted more points (7-6.
Finally, in overtime at the 49ers' 26-yard line, Taylor went with two runs and then a pass play where Burrow was sacked. This egregious decision to take the ball out of his star quarterbacks' hand with the game on the line. It's the most painful decision of them all.
Burrow was scorching hot on that drive and in the previous quarter. As a coach, you need to ride the hot hand there and let your franchise quarterback dictate the fate of the game. It was a poor decision to run the ball twice after what Burrow had done in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Taylor was aggressive last year. That's the most frustrating part of it. The question becomes, is Taylor only going to be aggressive when he has nothing to lose? We need him to show that he can make the right decisions in close games that matter—even if it means going for it on fourth down early in the game.
Darius Phillips Is Done
Darius Phillips muffed two punts on Sunday and his days as a return man are over. His muffed punt at the end of the first half was brutal for the Bengals. It turned a chance at taking the lead going into halftime into the 49ers extending their lead to multiple possessions.
He wasn't having a good season prior to the muffs. His 7.1 yards per return are worse than the career averages of Alex Erickson, Brandon Tate, Quan Cosby, and Adam Jones. He’s not only been a disappointment when it comes to his ability to flip field position, but now he can’t even hold onto the ball. The only field position he has flipped this season is giving the opposite team the ball in the Bengals territory. There is absolutely no reason for him to continue his role as the punt returner. He should not be back there unless there is an injury. Phillips has made me yearn for the days of Tate fair catching the ball on nearly every opportunity.
Offensive Line Struggles Again
Once again, the offensive line let the team down. They gave up 26 pressures and five sacks. The Bengals are 2-11-1 when allow Burrow to get sacked three or more times. They're 1-7-1 when he gets sacked five or more times.
The first thought about that is that it’s sad that Burrow has been sacked five or more times in nine of his 23 career games. Riley Reiff didn't give up a pressure before leaving the game with an ankle injury. Trey Hopkins and Jonah Williams played decent, allowing four pressures in 40 pass blocking snaps. Neither player gave up a sack either. Quinton Spain gave up 5 pressures, but he allowed two sacks, which was tied for the worst on the team.
Isaiah Prince gave up four pressures and two sacks on 18 snaps. Second-year guard Hakeem Adeniji gave up nine pressures. He didn't give up a sack, but that was mostly luck.
It was a nightmare performance from him after a couple of nice outings. Overall it’s another performance that leaves us without much to be excited for in the trenches. Over the next two weeks, they face the Broncos and the Ravens. Both teams lack an elite pass rusher. Maybe they can get their groove back over these games before having to face Chris Jones and Myles Garrett over the final two games.
Battle of Ohio
The Bengals are falling further and further out of playoff contention with these losses. They now sit at a 27% chance to make the playoffs according to FiveThirtyEight.
If they can win against the Broncos in Denver, their chances jump back up to 46%. The Cleveland Browns are ahead of them in the standings.
I do think that the model has not accounted for Lamar Jackson’s ankle injury as it gives a 78% chance to make the playoffs and a 58% chance at winning the AFC North. The Ravens cannot make the playoffs if they lose out the rest of the way, which is certainly possible given their opponents. To me, it looks like it is becoming a two-horse race. I do not have faith in Baltimore’s ability to overcome their injuries, so it may come down to Cleveland and Cincinnati.
The Browns hold the the tiebreaker after beating the Bengals in Week 9.
The more that I look at the upcoming schedules the more I believe that the Bengals game against the Browns in Cleveland in Week 18 will decide the division. I do not think either team will be more than a game ahead, which leads to that game being the decisive match-up to win the AFC North. If that's the case, then the Bengals need to be more prepared than they were when they faced the Browns earlier in the season.
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